After losing to the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs, fans are questioning the Ottawa Senators’ legitimacy as a playoff contender. The offence hasn’t been producing as well as the team would have hoped, having only scored three goals in 120 minutes of play.
The truth is, chemistry takes time to build. After bringing in Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux this offseason, head coach DJ Smith is still figuring out how to best use his new assets. This is one of the most talented top-six forward groups in the league, and it’s only a matter of time before the puck starts hitting the back of the net.
Related: Senators’ 3 Up, 3 Down: Stützle, Forsberg & More
Ticket sales are up, hope has been building around the team for months, and they’ve gotten off to a slow start. It is a perfect storm for the fanbase to freak out. Deep breaths. The fun, high-scoring games are on the way.
Tim Stützle, Josh Norris Pointless Through Two Games
Tim Stützle and Josh Norris both got huge extensions this offseason, and have yet to get on the scoresheet through two games. The good news is that they are generating chances.
According to Moneypuck.com, the top line of Brady Tkachuk, Stützle, and Drake Batherson is controlling 66.7 percent of the expected goals at even strength. The second line of DeBrincat, Giroux, and Norris is controlling 65.5 percent of the expected goals, along with generating 5.07 expected goals per 60 minutes, which is good for eighth-best amongst all forward lines in the NHL.
What do these stats mean? Regression is coming, in a positive way. They are generating plenty of chances, but have been unable to capitalize on those chances. Craig Anderson and Ilya Samsonov both saved over a goal above expected in the two games this season, and the Senators found a way to out-chance the Maple Leafs in the 3-2 loss.
Many fans are calling for Smith to flip Norris and Stützle back to the lines they ran in the preseason, but this is a bad idea. The last thing this forward group needs is another line change; stick to the course and follow the statistics of chance generation, and the results will follow.
If there is a stat to be concerned about, Norris has only two shots on goal. The former 35-goal scorer must shoot the puck more to fully maximize his abilities, and significantly help the top power-play unit in the process.
Power Play is Bound to Regress Positively
Just like their play at even strength, the Senators’ power play is bound to take off over the next couple of weeks. So far this season, they’ve recorded one goal on the power play, courtesy of Shane Pinto on the second unit.
DeBrincat is one of the most lethal shooters in the NHL and used the preseason to establish chemistry on the power play with Giroux. Like everything with this Senators’ offence, it is only a matter of time before he starts scoring with the man advantage where he had 14 goals last season.
The two units are loaded with talent. Smith is going to give the playing time to whichever one is playing better, but at this point, neither of them have stepped up to the challenge.
Bottom Six Does Remain a Concern for Secondary Scoring Options
If there is something to be concerned about with the offence, it is the numbers beyond the top six. The third line of Tyler Motte, Pinto, and Mathieu Joseph is getting heavily out-chanced at even strength and has an expected goals percentage of 40.9 percent.
Motte’s career-high in points is 16, while Joseph’s is 23, which came back in 2017-18. Pinto was dominant in the preseason and is still adjusting to the NHL game, but the team will need more out of this third line if they are going to contend for a playoff spot.
The rookie centre has one point, which came on the power play, and the two veterans are still scoreless up until this point. The fourth line is also scoreless thus far, which adds to the concern of forward depth outside of the top six.
This team will rely heavily on their top six, but the bottom six will have to chip in offensively on some nights to raise the ceiling of the team altogether. If they are not able to contribute offensively, they will likely be asked to shut down an opposing team’s top line every night.
Cam Talbot is a few weeks from returning from his upper-body injury, but Anton Forsberg has looked sharp so far sporting a .924 save percentage. When he does return, that will force a good 1A/1B goaltending duo, where the “hot hand” will get the start on most nights.
The Senators are wasting no time making Jake Sanderson a top-four defender. He’s played over 20 minutes in each game thus far and has looked very good on a pairing alongside Travis Hamonic.
The Senators are beginning a six-game home stand on Tuesday, Oct 18. They will play the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars, and Minnesota Wild. The long-anticipated return to home ice will help the players drastically, especially so if they score four or more goals tomorrow night.